Dakar, December 20, 2023—Senegalese authorities should unconditionally release four journalists from the online news outlet Allô Sénégal, who are detained on defamation and incitement charges, and stop criminalizing the work of the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
Agents from the Criminal Investigations Division (DIC), a branch of the Senegalese police, arrested six Allô Sénégal journalists from the media outlet’s premises in the western Thiés region on November 11 and transferred them to the DIC police station in the capital Dakar, according to a colleague with knowledge of the case who asked not to be named for safety reasons and news reports.
The arrests followed a complaint by Senegal’s minister of tourism and leisure, Mame Mbaye Kan Niang, in relation to a November 9 Allô Sénégal broadcast that discussed allegations that Niang committed adultery, according to the same colleague and reports. The outlet later removed the report, and in a November 12 YouTube video, Allô Sénégal apologized to Niang, stating that the report was inaccurate.
A Dakar court charged four of the journalists—news presenter Ndèye Astou Bâ, columnist Papa El Hadji Omar Yally, camera operator Daouda Sow, and manager Maniane Sène Lô—with defamation, public insults, and usurpation of the position of a journalist on November 17, according to the same colleague and their lawyer, Famara Faty, who spoke to CPJ. They were also charged with incitement to the crime of murder without effect—which under Senegalese law means that the alleged verbal provocation was not followed by an action—and advocating for the crime of murder for comments made during the broadcast claiming that the penalty for Niang’s alleged adultery under Islamic law would be death. Faty said the Islamic provisions on adultery are not applied in Senegal.
Bâ was transferred to Liberté 6’s women’s prison while the three other journalists were sent to Rebeuss prison, both in Dakar, according to the colleague.
The same court charged reporter Mamadou Lamine Dièye and technician Moussa Diop, who were not at the Allô Sénégal offices when the program about Niang was recorded, with usurpation of the position of a journalist and released them under judicial supervision.
“Authorities are wasting public resources by pursuing criminal charges against the Allô Sénégal journalists and further eroding the space for free debate in a country that was only recently considered a bastion for press freedom in Africa,” said CPJ sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo, in Nairobi. “Authorities should immediately release Papa El Hadji, Omar Yally, Daouda Sow, Ndèye Astou Bâ, and Maniane Sène Lô, drop all criminal proceedings against them and their colleagues, and allow them to resume their work without further harassment.”
The charges of usurpation of a position and defamation are each punishable by up to two years imprisonment, while public insult carries a potential two-month sentence, according to Senegal’s penal code. A conviction of advocating for the crime of murder could carry a three-year prison sentence, while incitement to the crime of murder carries up to five years imprisonment.
On November 15, Niang, who belongs to the ruling Alliance for the Republic political party, told a local TV station that he had filed a complaint against 25 people, including the six Allô Sénégal journalists and content creators on social networks.
During their November 9 news program, which CPJ reviewed, Yally, Bâ, and Sow described allegations that Niang had committed adultery as ironic, given Niang’s earlier comments about allegations of rape against opposition politician Ousmane Sonko. The journalists’ colleague believes that Niang perceives Allô Sénégal as supportive of Sonko, who was convicted in May to six months suspended sentence for defamation and public insult in connection to a different complaint by Niang.
CPJ’s calls and letter to Niang at the office of the Ministry of Tourism and Leisure received no response. CPJ sent questions to Senegalese Minister of Justice Aissata Tall Sall’s communications officer but received no response.